The military branches have long-defended the use of and costs for their military band and performances. Citing filled venues and inspired airmen and their families as justifications to retain the $1.4 million budget, the Air Force has missed a fundamental element of the changing times – the wants should never surpass the needs.
During the budgetary downturns of the last few years, and with the reductions across all services in employees and big dollar projects, what is the real intrinsic value of Tops in Blue? Past members defend its benefits as “unquantifiable” and that “you can’t measure the smiles and thank yous you get.” While that may be the case, you can measure the cost of doing business the same old way.
It is easy to recognize that band members are not performing their primary duties while a member of the Tops in Blue. This is not to say that they do not create a positive response for people who attend their shows, just that they are not doing their military job. In this regard, the money that has gone into their training is not being utilized and their MOS is short an individual in that job capability because they are in the band. While it may not seem like that matters when the military is over strength, when they are cutting people left and right, why should they retain someone who is not serving within their field?
So the Air Force did what they felt was appropriate; they conducted two surveys to determine whether or not they should retain the system in its current state. The first survey was provided to 4,674 enlisted airmen, officers, and civilians. The results indicated that only 25% have seen a show in the last five years, and the vast majority of responses between the ages of 25-34 years old were negative. The second survey went to the major commands across the Air Force, identifying that 41% recommend dropping the program, with 19% wanting to retain it.
The recent increase of an additional $114,000 from MWR funds (totaling more than $1 million of their budget) is a 13% increase in just 2015 alone. This increase is due to a reduction in corporate sponsorship and increase in operating costs. On top of the $1.4 million, the costs paid to its 37-member group during the year when they are not performing their primary jobs adds up to an additional $1 million.
Finally, on December 21st, the Air Force announced that it would be cancelling the 2016 season of Tops in Blue. While this seems a ‘no brainer’ for so many, the Air Force is still looking at ways to fill the gap left by shuttering the program for a year. They are examining contracted musical, sports, or professional acts to entertain service members.
Back when military bases were only accessible to service members and they were restricted from going off installation, the concept of on-base, organized events to boost morale seems perfectly sensible. When service members can carpool to a local event or sporting event for a few dollars, there is no sense in reducing a cost-prohibitive performance and replacing it with multiple cost-prohibitive performances; it defeats the purpose.
Cancelling the Tops in Blue program was the right decision; hopefully senior leadership realizes that money is not saved when a program is cancelled and costs are applied to other programs instead.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.